Salt Lake City, Utah – Mormon young men have prepared themselves to serve as missionaries starting at the age of 19, but that minimum age has now been changed to 18 by the Mormon Prophet, President Thomas S. Monson. The age for young women has been lowered from 21 to 19.
The announcement caught the more than 14 million Mormons around the world by surprise as they listened to their prophet give the opening address at the 182nd Semiannual General Conference broadcast from Temple Square to meeting houses worldwide. Previously the minimum age for missionary service has been 19 for young men and 21 for young women.
Mormons are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Every Six months they gather in their local congregations to participate by satellite broadcast to a conference at which the Prophet, the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and other leaders offer counsel and advice.
President Monson explained that young men in some countries have served at 18 because of requirements for them to serve in the military of their country, or provide other public service. He explained that those missionaries have served with maturity and great spirituality. The quality of service of those 18-year-old missionaries has led to the change in policy for all young men, President Monson explained.
The new age for missionary service takes effect immediately, but with the requirement of high school graduation before starting service as a missionary.
“I am not suggesting that all young men will—or should—serve at this earlier age,” President Monson said. “ Rather, the option is now available based on individual circumstances, as well as upon a determination by local Church leaders,” he explained.
The Church anticipates that lowering the age requirement will significantly increase the number of missionaries who will serve by expanding the options for when they may begin their service.
Two years ago President Monson issued a plea for more missionaries. That request resulted in an increase that has brought the current number of missionaries who are serving to more than 58,000 according to Elder Jeffery R. Holland, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who spoke at a press conference following the announcement. He said in the past two years the number of missionary young men has increased 6 percent, the young women have increased 12 percent, and married couples have increased by 18 percent. He said it is expected that today’s announcement will result in an even greater increase, but that those numbers will not be known until this time next year after the next high school graduation.
The lower age does not change the upper age for missionaries, according to Elder Holland. Young men will be able to begin missionary service anytime between the age of 18 and 25. Young women can begin serving at 19 and have no upper age for service.
Elder Holland said the change has been a matter of prayer and careful consideration for an extended time. He emphasized that the new lower age for missionaries is not a mandate, just an option.
“Young men or young women should not begin their service before they are ready,” Elder Holland Explained.
There will now be a greater emphasis on missionary preparation at home through local priesthood leaders, parents, and missionary preparation classes. This will enable the Church to reduce the actual time a new missionary spends at one of the 15 missionary training centers around the world by about one third, according to Elder Holland.
There are currently 347 different missions in over 150 countries around the world, according to Elder Holland. He said there are many requests from Church members to form a new mission in some part of the world. He said he expects to see an increase in the number of missionaries serving in the current missions, as well as the formation of new missions in the years ahead.
“It seems that God is hastening his work and He needs more missionaries,” said Elder Holland.